Below are the top questions that I am asked in a child support consultation.
I’m hoping these questions will help you before you meet with an attorney, whether it’s a member of The Micklin Law Group or someone else. I want to share these with you so that you can understand the basics, and really address the specific, important issues when meeting with an attorney.
1.) How much is this going to cost me?
That’s impossible to know. Our firm does offer sliding scale approaches to our hourly rate and flat fees in certain cases. But absent that, if either we’re not able to accommodate that, or the firm that you’re working with doesn’t offer those, the cost of your case is going to vary depending on the complexity of the issues. Child support is not often that complicated, but it can be depending on the difficulty in the relationship between the parties and how well they communicate or don’t communicate, how promptly the court brings you in to court, and how long they make you stay. Those factors will greatly influence the cost.
2.) How long will this case last?
A child support case lasts anywhere from, after the filing, two to four months on average.
3.) How many times will I have to go to court?
Usually, a child support case will be resolved with one court appearance. That will be the argument on the application where the judge has oral argument and listens to the parties about what they put in the papers, but you will more often than not get the actual decision that very same day.
4.) What are the factors for child support?
Child support in New Jersey is calculated by the child support guidelines, which is an income-based approach that takes both parent’s income and computes a payment amount that the non-custodial parent makes to the custodial parent. This payment amount will be adjusted depending on:
- How many overnights the non-custodial parent has,
- The cost of health insurance and who’s paying it,
- The cost of daycare if there is such an expense, and
- If there’s special, recurring medical or extracurricular need that needs to be addressed.
5.) Will I have to pay for college?
That’s a complicated issue. The law basically says if you’re married, we can’t make you pay for college, or we can’t make you send your children to college, but if you get divorced, the court does have authority. They make it a very rigorous test to order college. There’s a case, Newburgh v. Arrigo, that has a 14-point test the court is supposed to consider when making this determination. Ultimately, all these questions are going to come down to whether or not the court believes the parents would have sent their child to college if they an intact family, or if they would have remained an intact family. All the issues around that and the Newburgh case will all be dedicated to that type of determination.
6.) When will child support end?
The laws were recently amended where child support is presumed to automatically terminate at 19, and the paying parent doesn’t need to file any applications to do so. It can be terminated before that or after that if there are reasons to suggest that the child either has already moved beyond the need for parental support or continues to need parental support. The factors that will usually determine that: if the child is in the Armed Forces, living on his or her own, or any other factor that suggests the child has moved beyond the need for parental support, support will be terminated. In the event that the court determines a child has not moved beyond that need, child support will continue. And in some, limited, but some cases, child support never ends because the child has an ongoing need for support.
7.) What if I lose my job, or the other parent loses his or her job?
That person will need to file Motion to Modify Child Support. The court will normally require you wait two or three months, because the loss of your occupation or job needs to be more than temporary, and the court doesn’t consider one or two months to be a longer than temporary or possibly permanent position. So, after a few months you can file to modify support. You would have to show a material, substantial change of circumstances, and that you have not been able, through diligent efforts, to obtain comparable employment or income levels.
8.) How many times can the other parent bring me back to court?
There are very few reasons a court is allowed to limit somebody’s access to family court, so unfortunately, they can bring you back almost any time they feel like it. If the court does believe that the person is abusing the court process repeatedly, they have some sanction abilities, like awarding legal fees or possibly even changing custody, but there’s very little they can do to prohibit them from filing, even repeatedly filing.
9.) What do I do, and what do I have to show, if I lose my job or I need to modify my child support?
You’re going to have to show a material and substantial change of circumstances, and that it is not a temporary one. You’re going to need to show that you made diligent efforts to obtain comparable employment, and that you simply aren’t able to find employment. The court may then order what’s called a plenary hearing, which is a full but short trial, to determine the issues. In some cases, you actually have to exchange financial documents, like you might in a divorce case if you haven’t gone through one. You might have to produce tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, and show the actual lifestyle, and prove that you aren’t living the same way that you were before, and that you cannot obtain a comparable income levels. The court still has the ability to impute your income, which means they can still inflate your income back to where it used to be if they don’t believe that you’ve made a diligent effort to obtain comparable employment.
10.) Will the court consider my expenses when calculating child support?
Unfortunately, no, they usually do not. The child support guidelines that I referenced before are presumed to be correct, and it’s an income-based approach that does not consider the expenses. Now, the parties, as well as the court, do have the ability to deviate from the guidelines. Although they’re presumed to be correct, you can deviate if there is just cause, or if it’s believed to be in the child’s best interest. You can then look at expenses. Commonly, if it’s not by agreement by the parents than a judge actually can.
If a court’s going to consider expenses, it’s usually going to because there’s some kind of significant aberration in the circumstances, like one parent has no rent expense because they’re living at home or they inherited a significant sum of money, so their expenses are reduced greatly because they have a house that they got for free, or something significant. Conversely, expenses can be significantly higher because a child or parent has special needs. The courts do have the right to look to expenses and deviate from child support, but it is uncommon, because the guidelines presume that they are correct.